Blogs

For what it’s worth in June, offensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 23, 2017 – 11:40 am

With about a month left before training camp (already?!?), it’s time to take a look at who I think the offensive starters will be come Sept. 10, when the Cardinals play the Lions in Detroit to begin the regular season. Could a training camp signing change things? Sure. I see more of a chance of that defensively than offensively.

My defensive thoughts are here. And after that, the blog posts will slow. Time off coming.

QB – Carson Palmer. You can’t get anywhere without a quarterback. Palmer finished strong in 2016. He’s a year older, yes, and no one is calling him a top-five QB. But he’s still very good when the offense functions well, and when his receivers don’t let him down.

RB – David Johnson. MVP-type player. Is he going to get 100 scrimmage yards every game? Maybe not, but he’s certainly going to have the opportunity. With his skills, and health, I’m not ruling out a 1,000-1,000 season.

WR – Larry Fitzgerald. After Bruce Arians had said more than once Fitz’s 100-catch days were behind him, Fitz has had two straight 100-catch seasons. Won’t be surprised to see him do it again. The question will be, is this his last season?

WR – Smokey Brown. He says he’s healthy. The Cards need him to be. Rookie Chad Williams may have an intriguing future, but this year, the Cardinals need the I-can-get-1,000-yards John Brown.

TE – Jermaine Gresham. So many have questioned his new large contract. But he’s been the best tight end the Cards have had since he showed up, and he does deliver some intangibles on the field this team can use.

TE – Troy Niklas. It’s a leap, yes, to assume Niklas will stay healthy. But every time, in the brief times, Niklas has been on the field, they like what he has brought. He’s not going to be a big pass-catcher. But he can block and he’ll play an important role – again, if he’s on the field.

LT – D.J. Humphries. He’s better suited for the left side. It’s tough for Jared Veldheer, but given ages and the future, this was all but predetermined when Humphries was drafted.

LG – Mike Iupati. Wasn’t as good in 2016 as he was in 2015, but I expect a rally. It’s important too – given his salary going forward, his age and the drafting of Dorian Johnson, the spotlight will be bright.

C – A.Q. Shipley. Showed the Cardinals he could start in this league. No reason to think he won’t again.

RG – Evan Boehm. I don’t see Johnson jumping into this job. Not yet. This is probably the second-most likely spot Keim could grab a vet, behind only No. 2 cornerback. But as it stands, Boehm is probably going to be out there.

RT – Jared Veldheer. Veldheer didn’t want to move from left to right tackle, but he did for the good of the team. Is there a transition to be made? Yes. Somehow, I don’t have much concern that Veldheer will make it work successfully.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 13 Comments »

For what it’s worth in June, defensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 22, 2017 – 11:33 am

What’s frightening – at least to someone that hasn’t been on vacation yet – is that the first practice of 2017 training camp is exactly one month away. This is where I’d like time to slow down a bit. But this is also the time, before I take a step away for a bit and with the Cardinals a couple weeks already gone after wrapping minicamp, that I take a too-early shot at what the starting lineups will be Sept. 10 in Detroit.

Today, we’ll do defense. Tomorrow, the offense (right here). Most of these are pretty obvious. There are no real titanic battles on the camp docket. These can change if Steve Keim chooses to bring in a vet, but right now, nothing is imminent.

DT – Josh Mauro. Quietly, Mauro a) started almost all last season and b) has become one of the favorites of this coaching staff. No gaudy stats, but DL coach Brentson Buckner said Mauro is always effective when he’s on the field.

NT – Corey Peters. Speaking of quietly, Peters too played well in 2016. Came back strong off his Achilles injury. Proving to be a solid 2015 free-agent signing, even if he missed a year.

DT – Frostee Rucker. Always a chance Robert Nkemdiche could slip in, but I’m guessing Rucker – now healthy when he wasn’t in 2016 – takes hold of this spot, at least in the beginning. There will be plenty of rotating across the defensive line at all three spots.

OLB – Chandler Jones. No more uncertainly. Jones has his long-term contract, and so you pencil him in.

ILB – Haason Reddick. This is supposed to be Deone Bucannon’s spot, and there is still a chance he’s ready by the opener. I’m going to guess it’ll take Buc a little longer than that to be ready, and so I think the rookie will be the anti-Nkemdiche/Humphries and be in the lineup from jump.

ILB – Karlos Dansby. Dansby is supposed to be a bridge guy to the Bucannon/Reddick ILB lineup. But he still sees himself as “legendary,” and to the benefit of the Cards, he’ll work as hard as he can to stay in the lineup.

OLB – Markus Golden. Had a breakout second season, leading the team in sacks. Will be an interesting year too, since he (like David Johnson) will be eligible for a contract extension after the season, with 2018 his final year under contract.

CB – Patrick Peterson. A star, and he’s earned that title. Sometimes he gives up something, but that happens when you cover the other team’s best every week. Most of the time, Peterson makes the play.

CB – Justin Bethel. One of the biggest questions. Wouldn’t be shocked at all if Bethel is not the starter against the Lions. If Keim were to sign a veteran on defense, this is the spot I would bet it’d be for. All that said, Bethel looked better than Brandon Williams in the offseason, he is healthy, and if the roster stays as is, Bethel makes the most sense in this role.

FS – Tyrann Mathieu. The Cardinals need full-on Honey Badger. That is all.

SS – Antoine Bethea. There are options at the other safety spot. I don’t see Budda Baker in this role, not yet. Tyvon Branch remains an option. But there is a reason the Cardinals signed Bethea, and I think they will want his experience and leadership on the field.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 22 Comments »

Kurt Warner, deciding to retire, and 201 pounds

Posted by Darren Urban on June 21, 2017 – 11:16 am

Kurt Warner’s final season in the NFL was 2009, much to the chagrin of the Cardinals and their fans. Over the years, there have been some things left vague about Warner’s choice. There are still a segment of fans who are certain that nasty, nasty hit Warner absorbed in the season-ending playoff loss in New Orleans pushed Warner — especially since he said after that game he was going to take a little time to make his decision.

But the seeds were sown in 2008. Warner considered retiring after the Super Bowl, not because his contract was up but because of the toll the life was taking on his body. Not the hits, but the stress. As Warner prepares for his Hall of Fame induction ceremony in early August (and after I got a chance to talk to him for that story to come), Warner noted that he played the Super Bowl at 201 pounds (he was listed that year at 218).

By mid-season in 2009, Warner knew it was likely going to be his last year playing football, long before the end of the year.

“About halfway through ’09, I sat back and had thought about it a lot from the previous year as I was going through the season and just came to the conclusion that it had become such a job,” Warner said. “There had become such a high expectation and such a level of what I had to do for the team … week in and week out, that it was starting to affect me big picture. In the Super Bowl of ’08, I weighed in at 201 pounds, which I hadn’t been since I was a junior in college, and the stress and expectation of that was wearing on me physically. Not from the standpoint of what I could do between the lines, but big-picture-wise.

“Halfway through 2009, I just realized, ‘This is it. I’m just not willing to sacrifice that much anymore.’ Not very many people knew. My wife knew. Larry (Fitzgerald) knew — as he tried to convince me over the next eight weeks or so (to stay.)”

(Said Fitzgerald on the subject of trying to talk Warner into playing in 2010, “Of course. I knew what was to come after that. Selfishly, absolutely. I wasn’t foolish. I know in this business if you don’t have a quarterback, you don’t have much chance to win.”)

As for getting blasted by Saints defensive lineman Bobby McCray, “A lot of people look at the hit against New Orleans and said, ‘Yep, that is what caused him to retire.’ It didn’t at all. It might’ve been the perfect exclamation point on it, but I had known.”

So when Warner torched the Packers in the playoffs in what he considers his best game ever — five TD passes, four incompletions — he figured it would be his last game at University of Phoenix Stadium. He waved goodbye with that in mind.


Tags: ,
Posted in Blog | 18 Comments »

Peterson, David Johnson are top 20

Posted by Darren Urban on June 19, 2017 – 6:58 pm

The NFL Network’s top 100 list is coming to a close, and the Cardinals don’t figure to have anyone in the top 10. But they did have a couple players land in the top 20 Monday night.

Patrick Peterson went 6-for-6 in his career on the list, landing at 19th overall — right around where he has been the past couple of seasons. His ranks, going backwards in time, previously were No. 18, No. 19, No. 22, No. 33 and No. 55. During the season, Peterson had three interceptions, also went 6-for-6 in Pro Bowls during his career, and was again considered one of the best (if not the best) “traveling” cover guys in the league — in other words, a cornerback who follows around the opposition’s top receiver.

Then there was David Johnson, who in his second year, debuted on the top 100 list at No. 12. Like Peterson, a high ranking was a no-brainer for Johnson. Here’s a guy who likely would have been in the MVP talk if the Cardinals hadn’t slumped record-wise, and who would have been the first NFL player to have 100 scrimmage yards in every game of a season had he not suffered his scary (but ultimately, not devastating) knee injury early in the season finale. Johnson had 1,279 rushing yards, 80 catches for 879 yards and 20 total touchdowns. He led the NFL with 2,118 yards from scrimmage.

Linebacker Chandler Jones was No. 85 on the list, while wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was No. 45 as the only other two Cardinals to appear.


Tags: , ,
Posted in Blog | 17 Comments »

Across from Patrick Peterson, a revolving door

Posted by Darren Urban on June 16, 2017 – 10:05 am

It’s the dead time between the end of minicamp and training camp, and again, there is the question: Who will be the cornerback starting across from Patrick Peterson? As it stands, Justin Bethel is the leader in the clubhouse, although he was that at this time last year (despite a foot injury) and he never started a game. As we talked about in the latest Cardinals Underground podcast, Bethel has looked better than he had. Health helps. But until the pads come on and the games count, it’s impossible to know for sure.

But it got me to thinking about the position since Patrick Peterson arrived. Peterson, the fifth overall pick in 2011, had a learning curve himself when he was drafted. He wasn’t a great cornerback as a rookie, but he was solid. And he started all 16 games. His cohort opposite? It has not been the same player two years in a row, and that’s a trend that will continue this season regardless of whether it is Bethel or a veteran who might sign before camp or whoever.

2011 — Richard Marshall 9 starts/A.J. Jefferson 7 starts: Jefferson actually was the starter coming out of camp, but he faded quickly and was replaced by the veteran Marshall. Marshall was OK. He was probably better known as one of the better punt return blockers that got Peterson loose for his spectacular rookie year as a return man.

2012 — William Gay 15/Greg Toler 1: Gay signed as a free agent but was up and down. He immediately went back to Pittsburgh, where he was better suited and still starts. Then again, 2012 wasn’t good for any of the Cardinals. Remember 4-0 that year?

2013 — Jerraud Powers 16: One of the first free agents signed after Steve Keim and Bruce Arians took over. Powers was steady, although he was probably better suited in the slot. The Cardinals had Tyrann Mathieu plans there, so Powers dutifully worked the outside, and he was fine.

2014 — Antonio Cromartie 16: Cro was the ultimate Keim blue light special. Came in, was mostly good (although there were a few high-profile hiccups, especially later in the season when the team struggled) and made the Pro Bowl. But he wasn’t going to re-sign for cheap again, the Jets made him a big offer, and Cromartie started showing his age in New York.

2015 — Powers 13/Justin Bethel 3: Powers was disappointed but a team player when the Cards upgraded to Cromartie, and stepped back in the breech as the only two-time Peterson companion (Bethel’s starts came during Powers’ injuries.) Again, he was solid for a team that made the NFC Championship. But the Cardinals wanted to upgrade, there was belief Bethel could take a step forward, and Powers was allowed to leave in free agency when the sides couldn’t match up on the money it would take to keep him around.

2016 — Marcus Cooper 13/Brandon Williams 3: We know the story by now. Bethel was the pick, but was hurt. Mike Jenkins was the likely starter before blowing out his knee in preseason. The veteran Cooper was the late trade before the season, and got the spot after the rookie Williams showed he was clearly not ready after being the early choice. Cooper left as a free agent, getting a surprisingly nice deal in Chicago. And here we are again.


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 46 Comments »

Fitz a humanitarian finalist

Posted by Darren Urban on June 14, 2017 – 12:20 pm

We already know the writers consider Larry Fitzgerald a good guy. But Fitz’s good works go well past a quote or two. That’s well documented, from his trips to foreign countries to his foundation raising money. He was named the NFL’s man of the year after all.

Now comes news that Fitz is a finalist for ESPN’s Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian award. He is up against Curtis Granderson of the Mets, golfer Ernie Els and Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames.

The award is part of a group of awards in the same vein — a team award will also be handed out, as well as a corporate award — with the Stuart Scott ENSPIRE awards. The honors will be handed out July 11.


Tags: ,
Posted in Blog | 14 Comments »

Pooching and the kickoff question for Dawson

Posted by Darren Urban on June 12, 2017 – 6:27 am

When the Cardinals signed veteran kicker Phil Dawson, one of the questions that came up immediately was whether he would kick off. Dawson split time with the 49ers last year with punter Bradley Pinion on the duty, and ended up with only four touchbacks. But Dawson emphasized that his low touchback count was by design and not because of an inability to kick it deep. While both the Cardinals’ current punting options — Matt Wile and Richie Leone — can and have kicked off in the past, coach Bruce Arians has said Dawson can do the job. It’s a wait-and-see situation, but Dawson wants to kick off.

Dawson said the biggest reason his touchback count was so low last year was that the coaches wanted him to pooch kickoffs. Pro Football Focus pointed out that Dawson had the greatest percentage of kickoffs between the goalline and the 5-yard line last season, at 41.5 percent. With touchbacks now coming out to the 25-yard line, a pooch-and-cover strategy makes a lot of sense. The Patriots, to name one team, did it well last year. The Cardinals went with the touchback most of the time with Chandler Catanzaro, but given special teams issues and the need to cover, that probably was a good idea. If the Cards can gather a coverage unit that can get there, Dawson could trap return men near the goal again. Yes, his touchback ratio would be lower, but if the Cards can lock down the return man inside the 25, no one will care.


Tags: , ,
Posted in Blog | 13 Comments »

Arians delivers a soft warning

Posted by Darren Urban on June 8, 2017 – 1:25 pm

Larry Fitzgerald has already created a legacy that would look pretty nice even if he walked away from the game tomorrow, but that didn’t stop him from being angry (enough that he bellowed an expletive) for not being able to bring in a catch at one recent practice of what was basically an errant throw. That’s what you notice about Fitz, how much he works whenever he is on the practice field.

You also notice that he’s always on the practice field. He doesn’t get banged up often, not in the offseason. Not every player can say the same. It’s something Bruce Arians said he noticed when it comes to soft-tissue problems.

“He knows how to train,” Arians said of Fitz. “He’s tweaked (hamstrings), but he keeps going. He knows how to train. These young guys, they don’t know how to train when they go by themselves, or they hire somebody who trains them to run track. Not move around and hit the ground and push things. So they get soft-tissue injuries when they get to (training) camp.”

Arians said there was a “long conversation” Thursday morning on the topic with the team in their final meeting of the offseason.

“You get a soft-tissue injury this year (in camp), you’re probably going to get cut,” Arians said. “It’s just too competitive.”


Tags: , ,
Posted in Blog | 21 Comments »

Keim looking at “6 to 8” player possibilities

Posted by Darren Urban on June 8, 2017 – 7:32 am

As minicamp wraps up today with a final practice before the veterans scatter for the summer, Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim said in terms of signing a veteran to help the roster, options are still on the table.

“(Team president) Michael (Bidwill) and I talked about six to eight players, who are still on the street, who could potentially come in and help us,” Keim said in an appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7.

Keim didn’t get specific, either in name or position. But he noted the obvious, based on Keim’s past veteran signings in this regard: It’s not just about a scheme fit or need, it’s also about price. The Cardinals see a value in these signings, and even if a player intrigues them, they have weighed the cost-benefit. They are only going to play “x” amount for any particular player, and they won’t blow their salary measurement out of any perceived need.

(To clarify — the Cards won’t sign as many as six or eight. That’s just the number of players that are on the radar. I’d guess some play the same position, so if one signed, the others are out. As usual, I’d anticipate one or two Keim camp specials at most, barring injuries.)

We’ve talked about this before. Maybe a cornerback makes sense (that’s the position I’d look at first). Maybe a guard if Evan Boehm doesn’t keep moving forward. Maybe a running back to fill out the room, depending on what Andre Ellington and/or Elijhaa Penny do. But to think there won’t be a signing or two around/into training camp just doesn’t do the history of Keim any justice.


Tags: , , ,
Posted in Blog | 44 Comments »

Hogan, rookies wary of visitors

Posted by Darren Urban on June 7, 2017 – 1:18 pm

Inside the Cardinals’ Tempe facility, there is a small overflow locker room next to the main locker room. It’s reason for existence is simple — with 90-man rosters, it’s impossible to house every player in the main room. It’s the spot in the offseason where all the undrafted rookies and a couple of the lower-round drafted players reside.

There isn’t a player in there who isn’t hyper-sensitive about their NFL future. Recently, someone from the front office came in to give a couple of guys the tap on the shoulder, and they were cut. The moment made a deep impression.

“Now anybody (new) who comes into that locker room, it’s like, ‘Oh man,’ ” rookie wideout Krishawn Hogan said.

So Wednesday, minicamp practice had ended. A man walked in to the room wearing dress pants and a collared Cardinals shirt.

“He came up behind me and said, ‘Hey, as soon as you’re dressed,’ ” Hogan said. For a handful of guys in the room, time froze. It got quiet. “I’m like, ‘Oh man,’ ” Hogan recounted.

The moment passed quickly. Turned out the visitor was director of media relations Chris Melvin, and he just wanted to tell Hogan he was wanted for an interview. (Media access includes the main locker room, but not the overflow version.) Hogan came out to talk to one of the local TV stations, and his heart could start again.

There was extra reason for Hogan to be wary Wednesday, having false started a couple of times in practice. Not only did he hear it from coach Bruce Arians but Arians noted it to the media afterward. “If he can count, he’s got a chance,” Arians quipped about Hogan’s opportunity to make the roster. It speaks to the tenuous nature of many of these players, even when rosters are so big. There is a vigilant eye always on the locker room door.

“I know I had some good plays out there today, but I had some plays I definitely wish I could take back,” Hogan said. “When (Melvin) came up behind me, I was just like, ‘Please, give me tomorrow.’ ”


Tags: ,
Posted in Blog | 16 Comments »